Weekly Review — October 4, 2016, 1:34 pm

Weekly Review

A train derails in New Jersey, Rodrigo Duterte likens himself to Adolf Hitler, and a blind hoarder in Brooklyn discovers she has been living with the decomposing corpse of her son for 20 years

WeeklyReviewAvatar-Sherrill-WPU.S. presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump debated each other at Hofstra University in New York. During the debate, Trump stated that not paying income tax makes him “smart” and speculated that the recent hack of the Democratic National Committee may have been perpetrated by “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”[1] A poll found that 53 percent of Americans thought Clinton won the debate.[2] Congress voted to override President Barack Obama’s veto of a bill that will allow American victims of terrorist attacks to sue complicit foreign governments; the White House announced the United States would be sending 615 additional ground troops into Iraq; and the state of Texas pulled out of the federal Refugee Resettlement Program.[3][4][5] In South Carolina, a 14-year-old boy killed his father and then shot two students and a teacher at an elementary school playground, and in California, police shot and killed Alfred Olango, an unarmed black man who was holding a vape device.[6][7] It was reported that police officers use confidential databases to look up personal information on co-workers, celebrities, and their significant others.[8][9] In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte likened himself to Adolf Hitler while addressing his plan for the country’s estimated 3 million drug users. “I’d be happy to slaughter them,” he said.[10]

A New Jersey Transit train derailed and crashed in the Hoboken Terminal, killing one woman waiting on the platform and injuring 108 other people; Dutch-led investigators concluded that the missile system that shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine was brought into the country from Russia and returned the same night; and a Russian company debuted a new model of children’s bed in the shape of a Buk missile launcher as part of its Future Defenders of the Motherland product line.[11][12][13] The United States abandoned talks with Russia over Syria after Russia refused to end the bombing of Aleppo, and the Syrian government attempted to attract tourists to the city with a new advertisement featuring music from Game of Thrones.[14][15][16] Colombian voters rejected a peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that would have ended a 52-year-long war in which about 220,000 people have died; the International Criminal Court declared the destruction of antiquities to be a war crime; and a French civil servant sued his government over the right to smile in passport photos.[17][18][19][20]

Hackers took control of a digital billboard in Jakarta and played a pornographic film, a church in Western Australia had its windows broken by a gang of children between the ages of four and eight who were armed with small rocks, and a Pittsburgh man was given 30 days to catch a wild rooster on his property before being penalized by the city. “I called the zoo,” the man said in court, “but they said they didn’t have the capabilities to catch a rooster.”[21][22][23] Forty-six French cows broke out of their pen and 22 ate themselves to death in a food store, and a Memphis woman returned home to find two burglars having sex on her couch. “They just had a big old nasty party,” she said.[24][25] The Bureau of Land Management replaced a Utah trail marker that said “Negro Bill” with one saying “Grandstaff Trailhead,” and the Fairbanks, Alaska, school board proposed changing the name of an elementary school memorializing a pedophile nicknamed the “Strawberry King.”[26][27] A 68-year-old Florida millionaire discovered that his 24-year-old wife was his biological granddaughter.[28] Eight employees fired for abuse at a Colorado center for the disabled blamed supernatural powers when residents were found with words like “kill” and “die” etched into their skin.[29] An elderly, legally blind hoarder in Brooklyn discovered that she had been living with the decomposing corpse of her son for 20 years, and doctors speculated that a Utah man may have contracted the Zika virus from his dying father’s tears.[30][31] The Rosetta space probe flew into a comet after completing a successful 12-year mission, and, in Reykjavik, city officials turned off all street lights to improve the view of the northern lights.[32]

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“The Goliath of totalitarianism will be brought down by the David of the microchip,” Ronald Reagan said in 1989. He was speaking to a thousand British notables in London’s historic Guildhall, several months before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Reagan proclaimed that the world was on the precipice of “a new era in human history,” one that would bring “peace and freedom for all.” Communism was crumbling, just as fascism had before it. Liberal democracies would soon encircle the globe, thanks to the innovations of Silicon Valley. “I believe,” he said, “that more than armies, more than diplomacy, more than the best intentions of democratic nations, the communications revolution will be the greatest force for the advancement of human freedom the world has ever seen.”

At the time, most everyone thought Reagan was right. The twentieth century had been dominated by media that delivered the same material to millions of people at the same time—radio and newspapers, movies and television. These were the kinds of one-to-many, top-down mass media that Orwell’s Big Brother had used to stay in power. Now, however, Americans were catching sight of the internet. They believed that it would do what earlier media could not: it would allow people to speak for themselves, directly to one another, around the world. “True personalization is now upon us,” wrote MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte in his 1995 bestseller Being Digital. Corporations, industries, and even whole nations would soon be transformed as centralized authorities were demolished. Hierarchies would dissolve and peer-to-peer collaborations would take their place. “Like a force of nature,” wrote Negroponte, “the digital age cannot be denied or stopped.”

Illustration (detail) by Lincoln Agnew
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Ihave had many names, but as a sniper I went by Azad, which means “free” or “freedom” in Kurdish. I had been fighting for sixteen months in Kurdish territory in northern Syria when in April 2015 I was asked to leave my position on the eastern front, close to the Turkish border, and join an advance on our southwestern one. Eight months earlier, we had been down to our last few hundred yards, and, outnumbered five to one, had made a last stand in Kobanî. In January, after more than four months of fighting street-to-street and room-by-room, we recaptured the town and reversed what was, until then, an unstoppable jihadi tide. In the battles since, we had pushed ­ISIS far enough in every direction that crossing our territory was no longer a short dash through the streets but a five-hour drive across open country. As we set out to the north, I could make out the snowy peaks in southern Turkey where they say Noah once beached his ark. Below them, rolling toward us, were the wide, grassy valleys and pine forests of Mesopotamia, the land between the Euphrates and the Tigris where our people have lived for twelve thousand years.

The story of my people is filled with bitter ironies. The Kurds are one of the world’s oldest peoples and, as pioneers of agriculture, were once among its most advanced. Though the rest of the world now largely overlooks that it was Kurds who were among the first to create a civilization, the evidence is there. In 1995, German archaeologists began excavating a temple at Göbekli Tepe in northern Kurdistan. They found a structure flanked by stone pillars carved with bulls, foxes, and cranes, which they dated to around 10,000 bce. At the end of the last Ice Age, and seven thousand years before the erection of Stonehenge or the pyramids at Giza, my ancestors were living together as shamans, artists, farmers, and engineers.

Fighters of the YJA-STAR, the women’s force in the PKK, Sinjar, Iraq, November 2015 (detail)
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To get oriented here is difficult. The light is flat because the sky is overcast. The sun’s weak rays create only a few anemic shadows by which to judge scale and distance. Far-off objects like mountain peaks have crisp edges because the atmosphere itself is as transparent as first-water diamonds, but the mountains are not nearly as close as they seem. It’s about negative-twelve degrees Fahrenheit, but the wind is relatively calm, moving over the snow distractedly, like an animal scampering.

[caption id="attachment_271890" align="aligncenter" width="690"]True-color satellite image of Earth centered on the South Pole during winter solstice © Planet Observer/Universal Images Group/Getty Images. True-color satellite image of Earth centered on the South Pole during winter solstice © Planet Observer/Universal Images Group/Getty Images.[/caption]

Four of the six people living here are in their tents now, next to their cookstoves, two by two, warming up and preparing their suppers. I’m the fifth of the group, almost motionless at the moment, a hundred yards south of the tent cluster, kneeling on a patch of bluish ice in the midst of a great expanse of white. I’m trying to discern a small object entombed there a few inches below the surface. Against the porcelain whites of this gently sloping landscape, I must appear starkly apparent in my cobalt blue parka and wind pants. I shift slowly right and left, lean slightly forward, then settle back, trying to get the fluxless sunlight to reveal more of the shape and texture of the object.

A multiple-exposure photograph (detail) taken every hour from 1:30 pm on December 8, 1965, to 10:10 am on December 9, 1965, showing the sun in its orbit above the South Pole, Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station © Georg Gerster/Panos Pictures
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In all sincerity, I like Americans a lot; I’ve met many lovely people in the United States, and I empathize with the shame many Americans (and not only “New York intellectuals”) feel at having such an appalling clown for a leader.

However, I have to ask—and I know what I’m requesting isn’t easy for you—that you consider things for a moment from a non-American point of view. I don’t mean “from a French point of view,” which would be asking too much; let’s say, “from the point of view of the rest of the world.”On the numerous occasions when I’ve been questioned about Donald Trump’s election, I’ve replied that I don’t give a shit. France isn’t Wyoming or Arkansas. France is an independent country, more or less, and will become totally independent once again when the European Union is dissolved (the sooner, the better).

Illustration (detail) by Ricardo Martínez
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The prepositions you’re most likely to encounter after the title of a poem are “for” or “to” and sometimes “after”—“for my daughter”; “to Bobby”; “after Pound”; etc. They signify dedication, address, homage, imitation. In the recent poems of Fred Moten, we encounter “with,” a preposition that denotes accompaniment. The little difference makes a big difference, emphasizing collaboration over the economy of the gift, suggesting that the poet and his company are fellow travelers, in the same time zone, alongside each other in the present tense of composition. (Given Moten’s acclaimed critical work on jazz, the “with” is immediately evocative of musical performance, e.g., “Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins.”) Not all “withs” are the same—there is a different intimacy in the poem “fifty little springs,” which is “with aviva,” Moten’s wife’s Hebrew name (which means springtime), than there is in “resistances,” which is “with” a critic and an artist, interlocutors of Moten’s. (The poem “13. southern pear trees” has no preposition after the title, but is excerpted from another responding to the work of Zoe Leonard, and so is still a work of fellowship.) The scale of that “with” can be small (“with aviva, as if we were all alone”) or vast (“with everybody we don’t know”), but either way the poem becomes an instance of alongsidedness instead of belatedness; the poems request, with that subtle prepositional shift, that we think of ourselves as participants in the production of meaning and not mere recipients of someone else’s eloquence.

“Untitled,” 1989, by Zoe Leonard © Zoe Leonard (detail)

Estimated number of times in the Fall of 1990 that George Bush told a joke about his dog asking for a wine list with her Alpo:

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French researchers reported that 52 percent of young women exposed to Francis Cabrel’s ballad “Je l’aime à mourir” gave their phone numbers to an average-looking young man who hit on them, whereas only 28 percent of those exposed to Vincent Delerm’s “L’heure du thé” did so.

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